Approved by the Board: February 7-10, 1999 Board meeting
Service Area: Administration
Subject: Disclosure of confidential patient information in claim or lawsuit
In accordance with S.C. Code Ann. Section 1-23-40, notice is hereby given that the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners has adopted the following statement regarding the disclosure of confidential patient information as guidance for licensed physicians in the practice of medicine under the South Carolina Medical Practice Act and the Principles of Medical Ethics, as adopted by the Board. For disciplinary purposes in matters before the Board, compliance with this statement will not be considered a violation of the physician's professional duty to safeguard patient confidences under S.C. Code Ann. Sections 40-47-200(F)(7), (8), (12) or Regulation 81-60(D) of the Principles of Medical Ethics, adopted by the Board.
S.C. Code Ann. Sections 40-47-200(F)(7), (8), and (12), among other things, establish a violation of the Principles of Medical Ethics as "misconduct" for which disciplinary action may be taken by the Board. Regulation 81-60(D) of the Principles of Medical Ethics provides that "[a] physician shall respect the rights of patients, of colleagues and of other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences within the constraints of the law."
When a patient files a claim or lawsuit of any type which places in issue the patient's physical or mental condition or the quality of medical treatment received, the patient is deemed to have partially released the physician from the ethical duty of confidentiality concerning such matters in issue, to the extent that the physician, in his discretion, may discuss such matters with any attorney involved in the claim or lawsuit, upon written verification of the attorney's relationship and the medical issues in the claim or lawsuit. This discussion may cover any aspect of the physical and/or mental conditions of the patient pertinent to the claim or lawsuit, including, but not limited to, patient history, subjective complaints, findings, diagnosis, treatment, counseling, prognosis, and the extent of any permanent and/or partial disability or impairment. The physician is not required to discuss the patient with anyone, including the patient's own attorney, except when subpoenaed or when otherwise compelled by law. Testimony at trial or by deposition or affidavit should be given by the physician only with the patient's permission or when subpoenaed or otherwise compelled by law.
Although a physician who conducts himself in accordance with this policy will avoid disciplinary action by the Board of Medical Examiners, a physician may still face civil liability under some circumstances, and should therefore consult private counsel where doubt exists as to what actions are appropriate.